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Tight Ends to Avoid at Current Ranking (2020 Fantasy Football)

Jul 31, 2020

Tyler Higbee had an unprecedented, and likely unsustainable hot streak to close the 2019 season.

Tight end is once again a top-heavy position in real and fantasy football. And once again, there are several intriguing late-round targets for those who miss out on this year’s surer bets.

Our writers are here to provide you with tight ends to avoid in 2020 fantasy football drafts based on their current rankings in our expert consensus.

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Q: Which tight end are you least likely to draft at their current ranking?

Tyler Higbee (LAR): TE8
Historically speaking, the middle tier of tight ends rarely works out in fantasy football. The nature of the position is such that the elite talents going in the first few rounds can be counted on, but that then causes the “middle tier” to creep up in average draft position, as fantasy managers want to fill out their starting lineup. Therefore, a common strategy for selecting a tight end is to either take one early or wait. As the TE8 in our expert consensus rankings, Tyler Higbee finds himself in that risky middle tier. It isn’t as if Higbee doesn’t have upside. Over the final five weeks of the 2019 season, he erupted to lead his position in catches and yards. However, we need to note that this production came with Gerald Everett sidelined. He also entered Week 13 having played in 58 career NFL games and topped 50 receiving yards just twice, which makes his late-season run the ultimate small sample size.
– Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma)

I’m 100% in lock-step with Brendan. Never before have we seen a tight end produce in consecutive weeks the way Higbee did to close 2019. We’ve also never seen a backup ascend the positional ranks the way Higbee has since his late-season outburst … when the starter he replaced is still on the active roster. Call me skeptical, but I’m not buying this for a minute. Even if the Rams use 12 personnel as their primary package, I’m still not buying. When you watch the film, the main reason Higbee gets so many looks is that the defense keyed in on other passing-game options and heavily on Todd Gurley. Now, with Gurley and Brandin Cooks out of the equation, it won’t be easy for Higbee to go unnoticed. We’ve often seen the NFL catch up and scheme to stop what succeeded the previous year. Therefore, the Rams’ TE productivity as a whole could be limited in 2020. Higbee saw just 21 targets in the first 10 games of the 2019 season, including a pair of zero-target contests. The larger sample size is scary. No thanks! I’ll let someone else in my leagues fall on this grenade.
– Josh Dalley (@JoshDalley72)

Tyler Higbee is currently eighth among all tight ends in the latest ECR. The 27-year-old’s late surge came out nowhere in 2019. He hauled in 43 receptions on 56 targets for 522 yards and two touchdowns in his last five games. Higbee’s target share soared due to key injuries. The Rams faced the Cardinals twice (who allowed the most fantasy points to tight ends last year) and were without Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks , and Gerald Everett down that stretch. Higbee signed a four-year, $29 million extension in 2019. With all of Rams’ weapons returning, including fellow TE Everett, it’s going be tough for Higbee to replicate last season. I would pass at his current ranking and take a chance on Hayden Hurst, Noah Fant, Mike Gesicki, and Jonnu Smith, all of whom are ranked below him.
– Brad Camara (@beerad30)

Rob Gronkowski (TB): TE10
The narrative has overtaken the fantasy community at this point and is blinding folks to the reality of the situation. Rob Gronkowski hasn’t played football for over a year, enters an entirely new situation in Tampa Bay, and has to deal with a shortened offseason as he learns Bruce Arians’ scheme. The 31-year-old has not played a full 16 games since the 2011 season, where he hit the peak of his career by catching 90 balls for over 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns. Since then, Gronkowski has only gone over 1,000 yards in three of his past seven seasons and caught more than four touchdowns in four of his past seven seasons. His last appearance on a football field may be memorable, as he caught a deep ball from Tom Brady that led to the go-ahead score in Super Bowl LIII. However, Gronk was a shell of himself during his 2018 campaign, catching 47 balls for 682 yards and four touchdowns. He only managed the PPR TE10 finish that year despite being the only viable target outside of Julian Edelman on the Patriots offense. Now, he must share targets with last year’s WR2 Chris Godwin and WR11 Mike Evans.

Gronk may have “rapport” with Brady, but it takes time to re-develop chemistry on the football field. Gronk will also need to adapt to playing under Arians instead of Josh McDaniels. While the latter has typically preferred scheming his players open in short windows and creating mismatches, the former is inclined to a vertical passing attack. Maybe Brady implements his own system that helps Gronk transition, but it’s foolish to say that is a certainty. Gronk is currently the TE10 according to FantasyPros’ ECR, meaning that you mat feel committed to starting him all year given the draft capital you have to invest. Instead of drafting the un-retired, oft-injured tight end on a new team, I’ll take my shot later down the board on a young, upstart player like T.J. Hockenson, Jonnu Smith, or Dallas Goedert. Gronkowski may be a future Hall-of-Famer, but he’s not a locked-and-loaded TE1 for the 2020 season.
– Dan Ambrosino (@AmbrosinoNFL)

Travis Kelce (KC): TE1
This isn’t as much a knock on Kelce as it is a commentary on the state of the position. As the projected TE1, Kelce is flying off draft boards by the middle of the second round. But consider that in 2019, the difference between the TE1 (Kelce) and TE5 (Zach Ertz) was a mere 1.5 fantasy points per game. In fact, the delta between the TE1 and TE5 has been less than 3.0 fantasy points per game in three of the past five seasons. This is significant. Remember, the projected TE5 in 2020 (Darren Waller) has an ADP teetering close to the sixth round. Choosing Kelce over running backs and wide receivers with top-10 (or even top-five) positional value in the second round does not pencil out, since tight ends of only slightly less week-to-week value are taken in the middle of the draft. Let me put it this way: When was the last time a tight end was a “league-winner”? Jimmy Graham . . . all the way back in 2013? Pass on drafting tight ends in the early rounds.
– David Giardino (@davidgiardino)

Jared Cook (NO): TE9
Through Jared Cook’s 10-year career prior to joining New Orleans, he scored a touchdown every six games on average. In his first year with the Saints last season, Cook scored nine touchdowns in just 14 games (a TD every 1.6 games). That rate is simply unattainable for a second consecutive year at 33 years old, especially when the Saints brought in WR Emmanuel Sanders and tight end competition with their third-round draft choice, Adam Trautman. Cook saw just 4.6 targets per game last season as really the only game in New Orleans last season at tight end. That equated to a 13.5% target share among Saints pass-catchers. Given the new and improved offensive weapons at Drew Brees’ disposal in 2020, that target share is likely to fall. And while it’s possible Cook has become a product of a high-powered Brees-led offense, he’s surely in for negative touchdown regression. He’s a hard pass for me at his current ECR of TE9. I’d rather take a shot on a young guy in a good situation who has a real chance to break out this season. Players ranked after Cook who come to mind are Hayden Hurst (ECR 12), Noah Fant (ECR 13), Mike Gesicki (ECR 14), and Jonnu Smith (ECR 15).
– Adam Koffler (@AdamKoffler)

Austin Hooper (CLE): TE11
Austin Hooper finished as the TE6 in only 13 games in 2019 and was actually the TE1 through 10 games before succumbing to injury. It took the Falcons leading the NFL in pass attempts by a wide margin to get there, though. Also beneficial to Hooper’s production was Calvin Ridley missing three games and Atlanta shipping Mohamed Sanu to New England during the season. Hooper enters 2020 under an entirely different set of circumstances. The Falcons threw the ball 145 more times than the Browns last season. The Vikings, who employed the Browns’ new head coach (Kevin Stefanski) as offensive coordinator, threw the ball 218 fewer times than Hooper’s Falcons. There is clearly going to be less opportunity available for Hooper this year.

The pandemic has made it difficult for newcomers to get acclimated to their surroundings. Hooper will have limited time to mesh with Baker Mayfield or learn the Cleveland offense. Further, the competition for targets is stiff. Jarvis Landry led the Browns with a 26.6% target share, followed closely by Odell Beckham Jr.’s 25.6%. Kareem Hunt also commanded 17.7% of the targets during his shortened season. Hooper enjoyed an 18.5% target share last season, but that was a significant bump over his previous career-high of 14.6% a year prior. The latter number may represent Hooper’s ceiling in Cleveland, as shown by looking at the numbers of Minnesota duo Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. Stefanski runs plenty of two tight-end sets, meaning David Njoku will continue to see the field. Last year in Minnesota, Kyle Rudolph saw his target share drop from 13.7% to 11.6% while sharing the field with Smith, who held an 11.4% target share. Njoku’s target share dropped considerably in his injury-riddled 2019, but he still managed a 10.8% share after being involved to the tune of 16.9% in 2018. Already a distant third in the passing-game pecking order behind Beckham and Landry, sharing targets with Njoku will further hinder Hooper’s chance of returning value at his ECR of TE11, which perfectly mirrors his ADP.

Worst of all, Hooper may not actually even be third in the pecking order, as Hunt has been rumored to be the Browns’ number three receiver this season. Hunt was on pace for 88 targets last year and will operate in the underneath areas of the field where Hooper thrives. Rudolph and Smith Jr. combined for only 95 targets in Stefanski’s run-heavy scheme last year. Hooper had 97 to himself in only 13 games. The Browns are unlikely to win 10 games like Stefanski’s 2019 Vikings did, meaning they will be forced to throw the ball slightly more often. Nonetheless, the Browns are likely to deploy a limited aerial attack. Even if the Browns matched last season’s 539 pass attempts, a 15% target share would only equate to 81 targets. With the anticipation of the Browns throwing less often, it is clear that Hooper is unlikely to pay off for fantasy investors. Last season, Hooper operated as the only pass-catching tight end on the NFL’s most pass-happy offense. This season, Hooper will share targets at his own position while potentially operating as the fourth option for one of the league’s least voluminous passing attacks.
– Mark McWhirter (@mmcw19)

Hunter Henry (LAC): TE7
Henry has been a good fantasy tight end, but he has never been able to break through and join the elite group. In 2016, he split time with Antonio Gates and finished 16th among fantasy tight ends. In 2017, Henry had the same issue and placed 14th. He then missed the entire 2018 regular season with a torn ACL. Last year, Henry rebounded from his injury, but he was still only the ninth-ranked fantasy tight end.

The Chargers are going through a major transition this offseason. Philip Rivers is gone, and the Chargers are likely to start the season with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback and transition to rookie Justin Herbert at some point. Taylor is a good quarterback, but his highest passing yardage and passing touchdown totals in a season are 3,035 and 20, respectively, both back in 2015. Herbert, who has never operated under center before, is going to be a work in progress learning the NFL game.

Despite an uncertain quarterback situation and Henry having never finished higher than ninth at the position, Henry is ranked as the eighth tight end and 80th overall player. Quarterback is the most important position on offense. If the Chargers are only going to throw for 3,000 to 3,500 yards and 17 to 20 touchdowns, their skill-position players aren’t going to deliver the same production that we have seen in the past. Henry will also have to block a lot to help mask an offensive line that ranked 29th in the NFL last year by Pro Football Focus. It all adds up to him being valued at his fantasy ceiling with no room for him to regress. I cannot justify drafting Henry at his current rank. Hayden Hurst and T.J. Hockenson are much cheaper, and they have much more upside than Henry due to their better quarterback situations.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)

Evan Engram (NYG): TE6
To be fair, I wouldn’t be caught dead drafting any tight end that isn’t part of the Big 4 at the position and/or a certain long-haired-brother by the name of Hayden Hurst. With that being said, the fantasy community’s infatuation with Evan Engram is merely another case of clinging to hopes and dreams as opposed to living in reality. Just like when the industry fell head-over-heels for fellow 2017 First Round Draft Pick Bust OJ Howard, Engram has done his very best “Hold my Beer” bit to challenge Howard for being the bigger bust at tight end.

Having missed a grand total of 13 games over the past two seasons, can someone please help explain to me why Engram is currently going off the board as the TE6 with an ADP of 72? Give me a freakin’ break. The absolute quickest way to sink your fantasy season before it even gets started is by wasting a valuable mid-round pick on a scarce position that will yield little to no value.

There’s a reason why every single one of my teams will have either Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Zach Ertz, Mark Andrews, and/or Hurst as my tight end. While some in the industry pretend to be in possession of one, none of us actually have a crystal ball. Sure, Andrews having diabetes during a global pandemic spooks me with so many players deciding to prioritize their health by forgoing the 2020 NFL season, but outside of that, I have a very good idea as to what those five tight ends will give me in production. The rest of the tight ends in the league? Total crapshoot.

I’m in the business of securing as many sure things as possible when it comes to my fantasy football roster(s). I’ll leave the dice rolls for the craps tables in Las Vegas.
– Rob Searles (@RobBob17)

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